Iranian Azerbaijanis organized under the International South Azerbaijani Turks National Council in Turkey, established in May to publicize the struggle of their ethnic population, have issued a declaration condemning Iran “for behavior not complying with human rights and diplomatic rules” following the detention of two Azeri poets in May, Shahryar Hajizadeh and Farid Husseinov.
The poets entered Iran on May 2 to participate in a poetry contest and were detained by unknown persons in civilian clothing in the city of Tabriz, based on information from the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry. Azerbaijan formally protested the disappearance of the poets on May 30, sending an official note to the Iranian Foreign Ministry via its diplomatic institutions in Iran. Iranian authorities offered the first official explanation for their actions on July 4, saying the two were being interrogated over suspicions that they are Israeli spies.
“Turkey, which has a strong voice in the region, should take the initiative for the return of these Azerbaijani citizens taken hostage by Iran,” Zaur Bayramlı, press and public relations coordinator of the International South Azerbaijani Turks National Council, said in a written statement to Today’s Zaman.
Bayramlı claimed that Iran has been forced to explain its actions after two months, given the broader repercussions of the issue in the international media. “The Iranian regime conducts a despicable policy based on slander that could accuse every kind of person of spying for Israel. Reliable state actors make their explanations based on concrete evidence and documents. But we didn’t see such an attitude from Iran,” he said.
Bayramlı also asserted that Iran is trying to take revenge against Azerbaijan for exposing a number of Iranian spies and intelligence agents in Baku in February and March, who were planning acts of terrorism.
Relations between Azerbaijan and Iran have been tense in recent months, after Tehran accused Azerbaijan of providing intelligence to Israel leading to the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist. A further source of tension is Azerbaijan’s increased importance as a natural gas exporter, the nation having cut a number of deals with Western countries, while Iran struggles with wide-ranging sanctions on its gas sales.
Tehran is facing sanctions that more than halve its oil normal exports due to its controversial nuclear program, which the West claims intends to develop nuclear weapons.
The ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Iran await Turkey’s support for their ethnic rights struggle with the Islamic regime. The ethnic Azerbaijani population claims it is being deprived of political and cultural rights as an ethnic group in Iran. “Our allies, such as Turkey, which is a regional power, could not and should not ignore the Azerbaijan, population of 35 million [in Iran],” Bayramlı stated.
The South Azerbaijani Turks National Council will hold a number of events in Sweden and Russia, including forums and seminars discussing the situation of their population in the Islamic republic, over August and September. Furthermore, on Sept. 22 the council will hold a public rally in Taksim Square in İstanbul, under the title “Solidarity with South Azerbaijani Turks.” A similar rally is planned for Baku on Sept. 27.
The Iranian Azerbaijanis in 1945 founded the independent Azerbaijan People’s Government, which existed only one year, until 1946, under the leadership of Sayyed Jafar Pishevari, with Tabriz as its capital.